I Can't Say I Didn't Do It

Alford Pleas, No Contest Pleas, Nolo Contendere... they all mean the same thing. "I can't say I didn't do it, I can't say I did it, but I'm ready to take the punishment."

Frankly, the judges I practice in front of just don't allow Alford pleas or No Contest pleas. Judges really want to hear a client say "I did it." And, again and again, judges say, "If you can't tell me what you did, you should just go to trial."

I can think of only one time when a judge not only allowed me to enter an Alford plea, he encouraged it. It was in night court. And my client was a little old woman, who was completely deaf. As in old-people-deaf, not knows-sign-language-deaf. I can't remember now what the little old lady was accused of, but I think everyone in the courtroom was just appalled that she had been kept in lockup overnight.

I don't remember a whole lot about the case, I think maybe the prosecutor was offering some kind of non-criminal disposition (no criminal record) with time served. But I remember explaining to the old lady again and again that if she could say "she did it" she could just go home. Again and again, the old lady would say, "Ok, I'll do it," and then, I'd ask her, shouting, "Mrs. Old Lady, did you do what they say you did?" and she was said, "No sweetie." And I would try again to explain it to her again, but I would have to shout in the courtroom, "Remember what I said, you could go home?" And she would say, "Oh, yes, that's right, okay," and then we go through the whole thing again.

Finally, the judge, who was pretty cool, shouted, "I'll allow an Alford Plea. Mrs. Old Lady, would you like to go home?" The old lady said yes.

"Alright, that's sufficient," the judge said.

Overall, though, I would say that judges want to hear that guilty plea. Why? Maybe because it makes it harder for that plea to come back on an appeal. A defendant with pleaders remorse will have a harder time saying "I didn't know what I was doing" if they already admitted their criminal act.

And, I have to say, I think there is some truth to Manitor's comment:

The system demands admitting guilt. That's why it has evolved into the efficient submission-extraction process it is today.

What really matters is not punishing crime; what matters is repeating the ritual of having individuals submit their autonomous will to the authority of the state by admitting guilt. Honesty and truth have nothing to do with it.

What about everyone else? Do your judges allow Alford or N.C. pleas? It seems that you hear about them sometimes on television with regard to celebrity cases, so I wonder if that's because they're popular elsewhere or they're popular in celebrity cases.


  1. I've seen one Alford plea here and I have done several NC pleas...but not a lot. We usually have to have a really good reason for the NC plea.

  2. I wouldn't say they're frequent here, but they're fairly common and almost always there's no question from the judge.

    Further thoughts here

  3. Our judges are generally willing to take an Alford plea, especially on misdemeanors. They are rarer on felonies, but it does happen on occasion. Nolo pleas, on the other hand are rarely allowed at all.

    There is an absolute bar to any Nolo or Alford on a DUI case.

  4. Judges here generally will not take an Alford plea, they want to hear our clients say they did it. That being said, I had a client charged with possession of crack who was adamant that he did not know it was in his car, but wanted to plead guilty because going to trial meant risking a lot more time (he had 3 prior convictions for the same thing). The judge actually allowed him to plead guilty and even up through sentencing he maintained his innocence. I'm still in shock that the judge allowed it.

  5. Our judges take NC pleas all the time. I think they may be a little stricter with felonies, but they are VERY common with misdemeanors. Haven't seen any Alford pleas, though.

  6. I'm in St. Louis. Our judges don't do NCs and extremely rarely will they do an Alford plea - only perhaps on low level felonies where only probation is on the table and the defendant admits facts that virtually constitute guilt (i.e., won't plead to possession because it was his buddy's dope he was holding onto for his buddy when the police found it on him)
    It makes sense to me to disallow them. One should not be held criminally accountable by a plea if in fact they maintain innocence. Of course, in my jurisdiction judges no not really enhance punishment if a defendant exercises his right to a jury trial.
    I can't speak to what our judges do on misdemeanors...

  7. My state does not recognize a nc plea. Alford is fine, so long as the prosecutor agrees. Most of the time they are ok with it. Rarely, if ever, accepted in a felony case. Almost never ever ever in a sex offense, though I have a guy offered a felony diversion and an alford plea coming up next week. Needless to say the state has a crappy case.

  8. The whole system is designed to reinforce the idea of submission to the state. Not just Alford pleas or any other arrangment. Justice and the legal system are two entirely different concepts...one being something that society, kharma, or other forces can take care of, while the other is a systematic way to oppress people.

  9. Stanislaus County, California:
    NC is generally fine and requires no heads up. In juvenile court, the DA usually has to agree to it.

  10. I'm in Cincinnati. Here, no-contest pleas may actually be more common than guilty pleas in misdemeanor cases. They're so common, in fact, that clients will sometimes correct an attorney who offers a guilty plea on their behalf.

    For felony cases, though, no-contest pleas are rare. Typically, they're allowed when a defendant loses a pretrial issue (usually, suppression or speedy trial) and wants to appeal, but knows he doesn't have a good chance at trial. (In Ohio, a guilty plea waives the right to challenge denial of a suppression motion or motion to dismiss, whereas a no contest plea does not.)

  11. Actually I use the Alford plea at least 3 times a month. most of the time it involves cases where the Indictment charges my client with Possession of a Controlled Substance with intent and my client admits to the possession but disagrees with the intent. If we go to trial the DA's always ask and are allowed to include lesser included offenses, PCS being one of them.
    So rather than having the trial I will prepare an Open Plea and then inform the judge as to our intention of it being accepted as an Alford plea due to the objection to the intent portion of the indictment.
    It generally works out pretty good for my clients.

  12. Florida will generally allow a nc plea and occasional plea of convenience. In 16 years of federal court practice I've never seen either a nc or Alford plea although we've offered in the past.

  13. Judges in my county will accept an Alford plea. (I don't actually practice criminal law myself, but, my associates who do criminal defense work mention them with regularity.)

  14. I haven't practice criminal la win about fifteen years, but when I did -- Northern Virginia -- there was an extreme reluctance to permit an NC or Alford plea. In general, if you could make a record that there was some real possibility of civil liability that the client wanted to foreclose, you could get an Alford plea accepted.

    That might be the reason they're popular in the celebrity world. A misdemeanor assault doesn't have any real civil liability for a judgement-proof PD client, so there's no reason to take an Alford plea... but if your net worth is 9 figures, then that misdemeanor assault conviction means a slam-dunk civil verdict.

  15. I know this is a year late,but - my 16 year old son accepted an Alford plea for no jail time, yet was jailed anyway after passing a THIRD polygraph saying he didn't do the crime he was accused of. King County Superior juvenile court, WA state. His father and I were not allowed to participate in his defense because I had the bad manners to try to tell the court his accuser had made accusations against others TWICE before and spent several years in sex abuse therapy from the age of 4. Her mother was also a 'frequent flyer' in the accusation department. I didn't understand the concept of 'rape shield laws'. The family left the state ten days before the hearing, and refused to return to testify. When my son still insisted on a hearing, she was admitted to a mental hospital. He was offered the Alford plea in lieu of 6 years prison time knowing he'd passed two polygraphs and his accuser was virginally intact, after claiming he'd viciously raped her at knife poing, using 'pert' shampoo "to make it go in easier" over a dozen times. She waited over two years to disclose (during a tantrum when she couldn't attend a party). He passed a third polygraph during his pre sentencing evaluation, which resulted in a manifest injustice for 'being in denial'. He's been a registered sex offender for almost 10 years. Many of the Wenatchee witch hunt defendants accepted Alford pleas. They say there has to be 'strong evidence' before a Judge will accept such a plea, but other than the accuser's word, there was no evidence to convict, and much inadmissable evidence to aquit.

    Yes. His young life is in ruins.